We've been experiencing some wonderfully mild December weather here in Indiana, but I know the inevitable snow and ice are right on the horizon. If you're anything like me you've already piled on the blankets, plugged in the heated water buckets, and the barn doors have been closed off for a while now. However, have you thought about your horses winter hoof care? Depending on your horses needs and the discipline(s) you ride, your horse may have varied hoof-care needs, which can have different implications through the winter. If you're an all season show person toughing it out through the brutal temperatures, or just a trail rider in the nice sunny weather, you should always follow the adage, "no hoof, no horse."
Does your horse wear shoes year round?
If your horse wears shoes year round, a snowy and icy winter can bring hazardous conditions, particularly to their hooves. Snow, ice, and mud can easily get packed into the hoof and often create bubble like snow pack on their hooves. If you have a horse who is going to wear shoes through the winter, it is important to ensure that you pick their hooves every time you pull them in from the pasture.
Your horse doesn't get turned out? Horse shoes can still be an issue in the winter if not properly cared for, especially if your horse stands in a stall all day. If your shod horse is inside all day they will inevitably end up getting moisture build up in their stall on the shavings from the increased water intake during these cold temperatures, and the inevitable increase in urination. During this winter season it is important to bed your horses heavier than usual so as to keep this moisture from building up and getting packed into their hooves and freezing there. The hoof is sensitive and the frog can be damaged if this happens in horses with delicate feet.
No shoes no problem, right? Wrong!
Does your horse stay barefoot all year, or even just through the winter season? You still need to take additional steps to ensure healthy hooves through the winter season just as you would during the spring, summer, or fall. Your horses hooves may grow slower in the winter months because of the winter air. However, quarter cracks and chips can be very prevalent from the constant change of wet to dry and back again. As your horse treks through the mud and what we call at our house 'moop,' a mud poop combo that can suck the best rubber boots off of your feet, it can be damaging to their feet. There is a greater possibility of your horse contracting thrush from all of the wet and soggy conditions as well. If your barefoot horse is only turned out during the day and brought into a stall at night, make sure to clean their hooves and check for signs of cracking or thrush regularly. If your horse lives in the pasture it is incredibly important to provide your horse a sheltered and dry place for them to stand that is regularly cleaned. Feeding your horse under this shelter is a good idea as well. Additionally, you should bring your horse in multiple times a week to pick their hooves, allow them to dry off, and even apply a moisture barrier hoof polish if needed.
No matter your discipline, if you keep your horse in a pasture or inside, or even just turn out during the day, winter hoof care is an important addition to your equine routine. Keeping your horses feet clean and dry this winter will help ensure your best friend stays safe and healthy through the winter season.
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